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"Last Knight" Live Blog 4 -- Ransom

September 10, 2007

Let me step back for a moment to talk in a bit more detail about the opening of Hulsmann’s Mises biography. Here are some issues and comments:

– I imagine it must be frustrating to Hulsmann as a biographer that he hasn’t been able to nail down the year of the Mises family move to Vienna. The significance of the move to a boy will be rather different if he is arriving in Vienna at the age of 10 rather than the age of 2. Hulsmann guesses that Mises was likely six when the move occurred but he doesn’t give the reader much reason to think so. If Hulsmann would have been lucky enough to nail down that date, he would have had a nice hook for putting the reader in Mises eyes as he experienced Vienna.

–Hulsmann tells us that religious training was mandatory in the high schools, and that Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis provided the instruction, but he doesn’t tell us whether Jews and Catholics were separated for this instruction or what the character of this instruction might have been. This leaves us without knowledge of the degree to which Mises was given a Catholic education or the degree to which he had studied the Torah and Jewish rabbinical tradition. This is of some interest, not the least because of contemporary scholarly literature linking the Austrian economics tradition with the Catholic Thomistic tradition. Did Mises grow up in this later tradition? Did his Jewish studies have any influence on his later thought? If we had more information on his early schooling we’d have more solid ground to work on in thinking about these issues.

– The account of the ethnic and nationalities problem in the Austro-Hungarian Empire is quite good and tracks my own reading on the topic. But I wonder why Hulsmann didn’t use this a bit more to set the problem of political economy as seen through the eyes of young men like Mises at the turn of the century. At times the discussion seems a bit distant from the biographical subject, although of course it’s not. Austria is the crucible of the great crack-up of liberal civilization in the 20th century, the sort of civilization that Mises spent his life seeking to defend and explain. The reader here has to do much of the work tying these two things together.

More later.

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